Find your tiger – Phaedra Patrick

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By Phaedra Patrick

Each time I went to the supermarket for my weekly grocery shop, I caught sight of The Life of Pi DVD on display. A majestic, glossy tiger with wide yellow eyes stared at me, mockingly. “You’ll never write anything as glorious as this story,” he seemed to say. “You don’t have a tiger in your book.” ♥

I returned to writing my novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. It tells the story of a humble Yorkshireman, 69-year-old Arthur, who finds a mysterious charm bracelet in his late wife, Miriam’s, wardrobe. He sets off a journey to discover the story behind each of the charms and finds that Miriam led a secret life before they met.

Writing the book was kind of going okay, but it wasn’t grabbing me like it should. My agent at the time said that publishers were looking for sex, midwives or thrillers, but I didn’t want to write about those. Standing in front of bookshelves in WHSmith, I was confronted by hundreds of diverse titles which didn’t seem to back up her claim. So, what did agents and publishers actually want? I drove myself a bit mad trying to fathom it out.

Until one day, I looked at The Life of Pi tiger again and thought that if I wanted a tiger in my book, then I should put one in. And so I did. Lonely, bewildered Arthur is attacked by a tiger in the gardens of an English manor house. Inserting the tiger suddenly allowed me to write from the heart and gave me the freedom to be myself. I re-wrote the book and had fun with the story, without thinking about the market, publishers and agents. Nothing was out of bounds for Arthur to endure or experience.

Previously, I’d written three books which remain locked in a drawer. I had a further two rejected by publishers. But this one, with the tiger in it, finally worked. A friend remarked that they thought the story was ‘truly me’ and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper was snapped up in eighteen countries.

So, if you’re out there writing a novel, stuck or perhaps reining in your ideas and creativity, trying to guess what the market does and doesn’t want. Why not try something a little different, and be yourself?

Find your own equivalent of that tiger. It might be a fabulous object, a thinly-disguised favourite actor, a place you’ve always wanted to visit, a story you’ve always wanted to share, or even a facet of your own personality. Pop it into your novel, and see where it takes you. It might be somewhere wonderful.

Phaedra Patrick lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son, where she enjoys walking, eating chocolate, and arts and crafts. Her idea for The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper emerged as she showed her own childhood charm bracelet to her young son and told him the stories behind each of the charms.


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